This year's unseasonably mild winter has made it seem like spring for weeks, but the 14th annual Garden Expo blossomed right on schedule Saturday with a colorful and fragrant bouquet of plant and craft vendors at Fairfield Ludlowe High School.

The two-day event was sponsored by the Mill River Wetlands Committee, and benefited its River Lab program in Fairfield classrooms.

Several hundred people were on hand to listen lectures on a range of gardening topics, to browse nature-related arts and crafts, and to admire the vibrant blossoms of pansies, hydrangeas and primroses.

Appropriate for this naturally "green" event, many in Saturday's crowd also wore various shades of green in tribute to St. Patrick's Day.

Some of the vendors catered to the Irish holiday interests. Fred Jakubiec and Lynn Patrick of Birdhouse Accents in Torrington had among their hundreds of birdhouses one with a green roof and a shamrock at the entrance. MJM Enterprises of Plainfield, N.J., had shamrocks painted on some of their garden statuary. Ganim's Garden Center and Florist sold real shamrock plants.

Lori Kempton of Fairfield bought one to get "the luck of the Irish." Greenery of any kind did little to attract her 10-year-old son Alex. Instead, he was mesmerized instead by the Mill River Wetland Committee's River-Lab booth, which allowed him and other children the opportunity to examine microscopic organisms in water.

Alex syphoned a bit of river water from a tray with a dropper, placed it onto a slide and under a microscope, which was hooked up to a television screen allowing for a larger-than-life view of the organisms.

"He wanted to sit and search for living creatures and view them under the microscope. Last year he sat here for three hours," Kempton said.

That's music to the ears of the expo organizers. Net proceeds of the Garden Expo support the Mill River Wetland Committee's River-Lab, a hands-on environmental science study program that augments the curriculum of Fairfield public and parochial schools' third- through sixth-grade classrooms.

Riley Pereira, 7, of Fairfield, was attending his first Garden Expo and had one goal in mind. "He came hoping to find a Venus fly trap," said his mother, Kristin.

"Or some kind of bug-eating plant," Riley said.

Elizabeth Yanosky of Fairfield had edible plants in mind. She bought a flat of herbs from Moorefield Herb Farm in Trumbull, anxious to get them into the ground.

Merrilee Ganim, of Ganim's Garden Center and Florist, cautioned people not to get too far ahead of the season, despite the unusually warm temperatures. "We're not in the clear. They can plant things that are cold-hardy. Pansies can be planted now. The more sensitive things have to wait," Ganim said, surprised that some people came to the expo looking for tomato plants. "We try not to push the season," she said.

Yanosky said she loves spring. "Everything comes back to life," she told the Fairfield Citizen, and the local Garden Expo is a favorite rtiual. "Beautiful music and beautiful flowers," she said, referring to the violinist who provided the "soundtrack" to the expo.

"We've been coming for a number of years," said Renee Poet of Prospect, who was joined by her friend Joyce Macauda of Seymour.

"It's a great little show and a great way to start the spring season," Macauda said.

Ellen Hoverkamp, one of the lecturers, offered a glimpse of her creative process in creating floral photography in a non-traditional way.

Gretchen DeMattia of Gardening Gals in Wilton was participating in her first-ever garden show. She was not surprised to see the number of people who turned out. "Gardening is spiritual, cathartic, and brings people back to nature in this iPod/iPad-crazy society we live in," she said.

Meg Barone is a freelance writer.